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Puck Cartoons: “Launched at Last!”

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The following is a guest post by Woody Woodis, Cataloging Specialist, Prints & Photographs.

Imagine the pleasure of spending your days looking at cartoons created over a century ago. That opportunity landed on my desk in the form of a digitization and cataloging project of over 2,500 color cartoon illustrations published in Puck magazine between the years 1882 and 1915. To see the past through the window of editorial cartoons is to get caught up in the events of the time and to plot them on the wheel of history that relentlessly rolls forward into the future.

Take a look and see for yourself how the editorial staff at Puck magazine viewed many of the same political and social issues that challenge America today. What’s your favorite among the newly scanned Puck covers and centerfolds?

Joseph Keppler, who began publishing an English edition of Puck in 1877, occasionally drew himself into the background fabric of his cartoons. He featured himself in this 1883 double-page centerfold, below, of the Puck offices in New York City. Keppler invites us in for a look at the disarray the newsroom has fallen into during his absence. We see the dichotomy in the newsroom between the artists, depicted on the left, confident and demure, and named after such masters as Hogarth, Raphael, and Apelles, while the editorial staff, shown on the right, with a goat, are somewhat frazzled.

The return of the "prodigal father" at the "Puck" office - drawn by himself
The Return of the “Prodigal Father” at the “Puck” Office – Drawn by Himself. Chromolithograph by Joseph Keppler, October 10, 1883.

Puck covered New York City’s Tammany Hall and presidential politics from the terms of Rutherford B. Hayes to Woodrow Wilson, and skewered winners and losers alike. Many of the national political and social issues, such as taxes and the disparity of wealth, were center stage then, and are still with us today.

The Library is grateful to the Theodore Roosevelt Center at Dickinson State University for helping fund this digitizing project, which spans Roosevelt’s career in public office.

Below,  Theodore Roosevelt is depicted as a two-faced politician, or “The political Janus”; the caption states: “It depends on how you look at him.”

The political Janus. Offset photomechanical print by Frank A. Nankivell, 1910 November 9.
The Political Janus. Offset photomechanical print by Frank A. Nankivell, November 9, 1910.

While Puck began as a general humor magazine, it became noted for its colorful covers and double-page centerfolds that featured the foibles and machinations of politicians, robber barons, and other prominent figures. In the early 1900s, the magazine scaled back its political punch and began to feature illustrations of fashionably dressed, lovely “Gibson Girl” women, hoping to attract a broader share of the market.

The illustration below, shows a modern, liberated young woman wearing a stylish hat and accompanied by verse, is representative of this transition in Puck’s editorial policy from incisive, thought-provoking cartoons to the lightweight world of glamorous illustration accentuated with romantic sentiment.

Blue-bird lady though you be, with your hat perched careless-wise. Offset photomechanical print by W. Barribal, 1914 May 2.
Blue-bird Lady Though You Be, with Your Hat Perched Careless-wise. Offset photomechanical print by W. Barribal, May 2, 1914.

After nearly two years of cataloging I arrived at my final cartoon for this project. It was fittingly titled “Launched at last – good luck to her.”  This cartoon shows a New Year cherub labeled “1894” launching the Ship of State, with President Cleveland and members of his cabinet on board, under the banner “Tariff Reform.” In this presidential election year, this image strikes me as an appropriate and timely cartoon with which to “launch” the efforts of the Prints and Photographs Division’s Puck digitizing and cataloging project.

Launched at last! - Good luck to her! Chromolithograph by C.J. Taylor, 1893 December 27.
Launched at Last! – Good Luck to Her! Chromolithograph by C.J. Taylor, December 27, 1893.

P.S. If more digitizing resources become available, we’ll see about scanning the early years of Puck, 1877-1881.

Learn More:

  • See over 2,500 colorful Puck cartoons in the Prints & Photographs Online Catalog.
  • The Swann Collection of Caricature and Cartoon contains 2,085 drawings, prints, and paintings that span the years 1780 to 1977.
  • The Cartoon Drawings filing series offers more than 9,000 original drawings for editorial cartoons, caricatures, and comic strips spanning the late 1700s to the present, primarily from 1880 to 1980.
  • At your local library or bookstore, you may want to find Richard Samuel West’s 1988 book  Satire on Stone: The Political Cartoons of Joseph Keppler.
  • The Theodore Roosevelt Center at Dickinson State University is creating a comprehensive digital archive of the papers of Theodore Roosevelt, including more than a million Roosevelt documents: letters, cartoons, photos, films, scrapbooks, diaries, & newspaper articles.
  • Uniting Mugwumps and the Masses: Puck’s Role in Gilded Age Politics by Dan Backer, University of Virginia, August 1996, provides more historical context to the issues of the day.

Comments (3)

  1. What a great addition to the LOC online resources! Thank you. Do you have any future plans to digitize entire issues of Puck, including the numerous great black & white humor cartoons?

  2. This is an amazing addition to the LOC! Like always great work on what must be a limited budget. It would be great to have entire issues digitized to provide additional context but realize this is a huge task. I will not only be making extensive use of the cartoons but sending my students to view many of them as well.

    Thank you.

    Kevin Brown

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